With the coronavirus running rampant and cancelling all live sport, Seán McGill took a look at one of modern sport’s most charismatic and polarising figures and how he put himself in the limelight.
Usually, sport is perpetual. Games end, seasons come to a close, but there’s always something. Somewhere, a ball is being kicked, a punch is being thrown, a finish line is being crossed.
While there are far more pressing concerns in the world at the moment, many people miss watching live sport, whether that be in person or from the comfort of their own homes. Broadcasters have had to break into the archives in an attempt to fill the void, showing documentaries, interviews, and previous events in the hope of keeping punters engaged enough so that they don’t pause or cancel their subscriptions.
BT Sport’s answer to this problem came in the form of a Conor McGregor Special on Monday night. Marking seven years to the day since The Notorious One made his Octagon debut, every single one of his 12 UFC fights were aired back-to-back in a three and a half hour McGregor marathon.
McGregor’s immense charisma and animated personality are well documented, but what is sometimes forgotten is just how talented a fighter he has proved himself to be over his UFC career. He boasts a varied collection of fights, some explosive and shocking, some tense and technical, but in one way or another, they all reflect the aura of the man himself – captivating.
His UFC debut proved to be a sign of things to come, as Marcus Brimage became the first of five men that McGregor would seal a first round TKO victory against, courtesy of his trademark left-hand hook. Not many knew it at the time, but that first win in Stockholm put McGregor on course to become the promotion’s biggest star to date.
With relative ease, McGregor breezed past featherweight contenders with one goal in mind – the world title. In knocking out José Aldo at UFC 194 in a record-breaking 13 seconds, he didn’t just secure the Featherweight Championship, he secured his status as a bona fide global superstar.
Even the first loss of McGregor’s UFC career couldn’t weather the media storm surrounding him. After tapping out to Nate Diaz at UFC 196, there was a new angle to take on The Notorious One’s story. Could he bounce back? Did he deserve the hype? Is he everything he said he was?
What came next were arguably the two definitive fights of McGregor’s career so far. First, he sealed vindication, defeating Diaz by majority decision in their epic, blood-soaked rematch at UFC 202, widely considered one of the greatest fights in the promotion’s history.
Next, he etched his name into immortality. In the legendary Madison Square Garden, the Irishman knocked out Eddie Alvarez in a Lightweight Championship bout that saw McGregor become the first man in UFC history to hold titles in two divisions simultaneously. A breathtaking performance in the world’s most famous arena gave birth to the UFC’s first-ever “Champ Champ.”
McGregor’s UFC appearances became far less frequent following this point for an array of reasons. The birth of his son, his business ventures, and the small matter of fighting Floyd “Money” Mayweather in the second most bought boxing pay-per-view in history meant that the sport of MMA lacked its brightest star for a while.
Upon his return to the Octagon, McGregor was mauled at UFC 229 by the undefeated Khabib Nurmagomedov in a failed attempt the regain the lightweight title he never lost. Earlier this year however, Las Vegas was treated to a vintage McGregor performance against Donald Cerrone at UFC 246. In just 40 seconds, the pride of Ireland displayed the kind of explosiveness and precision for which he has become, well, notorious.
In a time when fans are desperately looking for content to fulfil their sporting needs, BT played a blinder in showcasing McGregor’s storied career. Firstly, his fights are all extremely watchable. Only three of his 12 UFC bouts have gone past the second round, and when they have, they were hard-hitting, brutal, and filled with the sort of excruciating tension that has seen the popularity of MMA grow exponentially over the past decade.
The marathon also gave viewers the chance to get invested in a journey. It wasn’t just a debut fight to show a champion’s humble beginnings. It wasn’t just a euphoric title victory that saw an athlete reach their professional peak. It was everything. From start to finish, it showed McGregor’s development as an athlete, as a fighter, and ultimately, as a performer.
Performance, both in terms of fighting and showmanship, is what McGregor’s success has been based upon. While he has unarguably crossed several lines in his life, and has received deserved criticism for it, McGregor has created a persona that people are invested in, whether it be positively or otherwise.
In a world that is currently full of uncertainty, and sadness, and anxiety, a larger-than-life character can help provide momentary relief. For McGregor, his fights really are secondary. His personality transcends his sport. He is the spectacle.
A spectacle in which you can immerse yourself in, just for a few hours, and maybe forget about everything else for a while. You might love him, you might loathe him, but regardless of which emotion he evokes, it can serve as a welcome distraction.